Friday, November 30, 2012

The Attitude of Gratitude



I've heard this phrase, "the attitude of gratitude" for years now. It's a pretty simple concept, but can be a tough one to master -- as it is with most "simple truths."

As November draws to a close, I once again realize that I have much to be grateful for in my life. Surprisingly, I did not partake in the "30 Days of Thankfulness Fest" on Facebook. I'm not sure why. I'm definitely all about being thankful and letting people know what I'm thankful for, but I think some part of me didn't want the pressure of having to think of something and then post it. Maybe I just wanted it to be a bit more organic and natural. Or...I could have just been commitment-phobic. That is probably a little true too.

Nonetheless, without posting daily, I have been keeping track of my many blessings. And the more blessings I count up, the more blessings I seem to see in my life. I think this is a universal truth about being grateful:

The more grateful you are, the more things you see in your life for which to be grateful.

And I think that this is the heart of the "attitude of gratitude". The very act of being grateful begets more gratefulness and on and on and on....

This month I have been consumed with thankfulness as I helped my husband prepare for a trip to Tanzania, watched as he posted photos and stories of what he experienced over there, and then as he came home this week and shared even more. This experience alone has reminded me how blessed we are to live in the United States. Yes, our country is not perfect. There are many things to be troubled about, but at the heart of everything, we have a warm, clean place to live and an over-abundance of stuff. We do not lack for any creature comfort and have duplicates of many things. In fact, I had to wince several times at our largess -- we often have too much stuff that we have to go through and donate it, sell it and give it away.

That's an abundance of blessing, my friends.

However, beyond this obvious blessing, I have been given little "God winks" this past month that remind me that God is concerned with hunger, child abuse issues, homelessness....but He's also concerned with the little things that are important to us.

Here are some "little things" (that were BIG to me) that I have been grateful for this month:

  • That I survived the 12 days my husband was gone! As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, this was no mean feat. In fact, most days, we actually had a blast. There were very few times that I wanted to throw in the towel and run away screaming like a banshee! I attribute this mostly to the prayers of friends and family and their willingness to jump in and help me from time to time.
  • That I have launched a successful home-based business in the past few weeks with Usborne Books & More. When I signed up as a consultant, I gave the business to God and let Him handle it. So far, I have hit every incentive marker there has been for me -- despite my lack of time and ability to "drum up business." Just when I've needed it, people have asked me if they could schedule a show, have me come out for an event, or join my team as a new recruit. It truly boggles the mind.
  • More along the lines of the last one....I have tried to keep my start-up costs as low as possible, by figuring out how to do things with what I have around the house. I actually decided against buying a money bag that I wanted (it wasn't much, but it seemed like an unnecessary expense), but found out today that I "earned it" by selling enough books in the month of October. They were letting me know that they are sending it to me next week!!
  • I found a cute purse for my niece that I wanted to buy her for Christmas. It was on clearance and the price was right. However, it looked a little worse for wear. As I thought about how great it would be if I could find another one in the jumble of items, I looked up and there was another. Pristine and perfect and ready for me to purchase. Coincidence? I don't think so!
  • As a homeschool family, we really want to give our kids fun experiences with their peers. However, with 4 children in our family, costs can be prohibitive. I had signed up the kids for an upcoming ski trip with a local group. It was going to be $25 each for them for their lift ticket, equipment and a lesson. For me, it was going to be more. I felt like I should also be on the mountain with them as they learned, so I signed all 4 of us up. Yesterday when I went to get my forms and check in, I was told that I would be able to go for the "chaperone price" of $25!! A huge blessing for us!
I know there are so many more other little blessings. Money saved, a coupon given to me when I needed it most (that did happen as well by a Target employee!), a free Starbucks drink reward earned at the right time...and so much more.

Once I started seeing these graces in my daily life and gave thanks for them (and did some happy dance rejoicing most of the time), I began to see more -- how things just seemed to "work out" a certain way or the timing was just the way I needed it to be. And the more I saw, the more grateful I became until almost everything became something to be grateful for....yes, even the "bad things." Even in those, I could find things to be grateful for:
  • Too much laundry to do was a cause to celebrate the fact that we have plenty of warm clothes
  • Water all over the floor in the bathroom became a reason to rejoice in the fact that we have hot, running water in our house at all.
  • Children giggling in their beds when they were expressly told to be quiet and go to sleep reminded me that I have been blessed with 4 little people -- when many others have had empty arms.
  •  Balding tires made me think of the fact that at least I have a reliable vehicle to transport us around town. Replacing a few tires seems like an easy thing to do.
See what I mean? When you start, you just can't stop. If you don't stop long enough, it becomes a habit! And for me, it's one habit that I hope to never break!




Friday, July 6, 2012

It is what it is...until it's not.

Photo Credit: INCITE

In my 38 years on this planet, I have been alive and kicking  long enough to see the cycle of collective cultural catch phrases. Remember, "rad," "cool," "sweet," "gag me with a spoon," "tubular," "where's the beef," "wicked," and the still ever present peppering of "like" through every sentence?

There are some phrases that are banned from adult use. A few months ago, a similar-aged friend and I were trying out her teenage daughters' newest saying, "like a boss," only to be given eye rolls of epic proportions and being chastised for saying it wrong and for even trying to say it in the first place. Young people only. Meaning...we're old. Yeah, we get it.

However, there is one catch phrase that I seem to hear everywhere now -- from young to old -- and it's driving me nuts. I even hate to type it here. Okay...here goes.

"It is what it is."

Ahhhh! (Hands flapping and grimace going). I really, really, really have come to dislike this one. Hearing it is like nails on a chalkboard for me.

"Why," you ask?

Well, for me it's become sort of a cultural acceptance of mediocrity -- a giving in to reality without any sense of hope or belief that things could be different.

Here's how I usually hear it.

"Yeah...well, my hours got cut at work and my health insurance just went up. I'm wondering if we might lose our house. Well...it is what it is."

Or...

"Someone I thought was a friend just talked about me behind my back. I can't believe she shared things that were so private...things she swore she would never tell anyone else. I can't change it...it is what it is."

And on and on...you get the drift.

The reason I cannot stand this phrase is that it leaves ZERO room for the miraculous and saving power of God in a person's life. I believe when we (and especially Christians) utter, "it is what it is," you are telling the Creator of the Universe that you do not believe He is powerful, capable, gracious or concerned enough to intervene in your circumstance.

If you believe in the mantra, "it is what it is," then you don't know the God I serve.

The God I serve has given me "God winks" of opened schedules and doors, favor with people with influence, financial provision when things have been dire, free tickets to movies and the circus, healing when my children have been sick, restoration of broken relationships, and so so much more.

If we truly believe that "it is what it is," we slam the door on possibility. We bar the door against Hope.

"Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” -- Matthew 19:26


I heard this scripture over the last few days when I was privileged to be able to serve last minute as a cabin leader for the girls of my church at camp. I hadn't been back to Kids Camp since 1990 when I last served as a counselor. I had spent a good portion of my life going to these summer camps -- when my mom was on staff, when I was a camper and then when I was old enough to be an assistant counselor and then a full-fledged one. I adore camp. I had some life-changing moments there.

As I looked out across the meeting room and saw the children listening intently to the message given to them that with God ALL things are possible, I saw the belief in their eyes. Children are born believers. It's only when we get older and are confronted with "reality" that our belief wanes.

When they prayed, these kids believed that things would be different. They didn't ask God to intervene and than tack on, "it is what it is" at the end of it. No! They prayed with authority and power.

I'm on a mission to eradicate "it is what it is" from the church and elsewhere. Because "it is what it is"...until it's not. And that can happen in a blink of an eye...in the whisper of a prayer...in the saying of the name, "Jesus."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Of Water and Wind

Photo Credit: Lars Raun

Okay...this is a first. I've never written two blog posts in one day before. But, something about today and the timeline of this past weekend created the perfect storm of revelation in my heart.

After months of this occurring in my life, I've stopped thinking it's a coincidence when I "happen to" read something that is in line without something else I've heard, read or been thinking about. Some people hear God's voice in their head/heart as loudly as an audible voice. I seem to hear him in the confluence of media and meditation.

After I wrote and posted my blog post earlier, this is what I read in my friend, Dawn's book, Driving Through Walls.


"As we stood around the well, he explained it had been closed for some time because of concern of kids falling in. I couldn't help but notice the closed well was surrounded by cacti -- plants that don't need water. I couldn't help but think the church there also closed  up "The Well", for fear of its "danger" and then attempted to make themselves content by becoming plants that don't "need" water. How sad to give up luscious plant life for a garden of poky cacti -- not that cacti aren't lovely to look at, but next to a well?"

And...would you know, this is exactly what I was thinking about yesterday...and maybe didn't quite pinpoint in my earlier post. And truthfully, I'm not sure why I didn't get "all the way there" with my words.

But I had a revelation yesterday at church as the pastor (who is also my father) encouraged us to not fear the Holy Spirit as someone or something that is out to harm or embarrass us. And I don't view Him that way.

But, after being banged up a bit by hard knocks at the hand of fellow Christians who have been filled by this same Spirit and feeling that pain, I realized that in shutting down that internal suffering, I had unintentionally blockaded or "capped" the flow of the Spirit in my life.

In order to keep the danger out.

To feel safe.

To do anything but feel the sting of hurt and betrayal again.

Without intending to, I have become a cactus content with no need for the Living Water.

I'm not saying I haven't/don't need Jesus. I do. I have.

I have just lacked Power. Courage. The "Impossible-doesn't-exist" mentality that doesn't just attract others to Jesus...it propels and compels them to Him.

In shutting off the part of me that would most register and feel the sting of incoming emotional blows, I have unwittingly stopped up the flow out of me that would make it possible for me to dream extravagant dreams, to hope for the unbelievable, and let those streams of Living Water flow out to those around me.

I thought I was just guarding my heart. After all, the Bible says, "for it is the well spring of Life."

However, it says, "guard," not "put up heavy rocks and boulders in front of."

I've heard people say, "the Holy Spirit is a gentleman." Usually they say that to assuage people's fears that to be filled with the spirit means you will roll across aisles, swing from chandeliers, and babble like a baby.

But, I don't think the Holy Spirit is a gentleman -- strolling around in tails and a top hat patiently and politely leaving calling cards for people to get back to Him at their convenience.

I do believe that He waits for a willing and open heart, but I believe that after the door is opened to Him -- all bets are off. You cannot invite Him in and dictate the "code of conduct" as if he is merely staying as a house guest.

He owns the place and invites you to live with Him.

There might be hootin' and hollerin'. There might be things that would embarrass our frail human flesh and ego.

But there might also be resurrections, healings, and supernatural things that defy "common sense."

That's the type of life I want to live...what I've always wanted to live. But didn't realize until yesterday that I had walled myself off from it. Whether it was intentional or not, wanted or not....I've been living with a serious reduction of power flow.

I believe the Holy Spirit is a powerful wind --just like the one that is currently raging outside to the delight of my children. It's knocking down fences (I just finished propping up one section) and creating a sandstorm of fantastical proportions that my sweet babies are dancing within.

They do not fear it
They are reveling in it.
Welcoming it.
Screaming into it and asking for more.

A child is born without fear. We adults try to add in a "healthy dose" of it to keep them safe because experience has taught us that the wind isn't always safe.

It can destroy homes.
It can fan flames.
It can become a funnel and leave a wake of destruction.

But "child-like faith".... It doesn't say "childish" faith. It's not of a child.

To the contrary, I believe that's the faith of a full grown adult who has experienced bumps, bruises, falls and failures who still chooses despite "what reality would dictate" to walk out into that wind again.

Fully knowing the risk, but fully trusting in God's sovereignty.

We need not fear the power of the wind when we understand the One who controls it.

Taste and See...




I am blessed to live in the California Central Valley for many reasons, but one of the best (especially in the Spring/Summer time) is the quantity, quality and proximity of a bevy of seasonal fruit. I literally live in one of the great fruit baskets of the world. We grow and harvest everything from citrus, avocado, berries, apples, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, grapes....you get the idea.

In May, we all eagerly watch the roadside stands that populate the country roads and other main drags in town and swoop in and buy huge boxes of red, juicy strawberries and other berries (boysenberry, blueberry, blackberry, olalliberry, etc.) Later in the month, the cherries are ready...sweet, and just the right amount of tartness to tempt the taste buds.

In June, we stalk local fruit stands and u-picks for succulent peaches and fresh ears of corn. Add fruit and seasons...repeat!

But, as with anything, having plenty of something can often lead to a certain commonness that easily turns into taking it for granted.

Sometimes it takes a friend who lives in other parts of the U.S. or the world to wistfully pine for fresh fruit and veggies or bemoaning the outrageous price for sub-par produce. (A local friend of mine who spent some time living on the east coast shared about how she bought avocados to make guacamole for Taco Night, only to realize that the low quality green dip cost her about $25! She pined for the fresh, tasty avocados of home that would have cost her 1/4 of the price.)

Other times, it just takes a visit to a local farmer's market and having your senses awakened to all the diverse colors, flavors and smells.

However, I think that it's human nature to become desensitized to "bounty." After awhile, we come to expect it. Demand it, in fact. It becomes no big deal.

Until we don't have it.

I experienced this firsthand a few times in my life. I, too, have lived overseas and away from the Produce Basket of the world and have sorely missed my May strawberries, and other delights.

But, I think the worst kind of torture is when I missed out on a smorgasbord of wonderfulness in my own home town.

I have spent a lifetime fighting the battle of the bulge. For some reason, I have one of those body types, one of those metabolisms that makes losing weight an epic battle. I have won some of the wars, and lost many more. In desperation, I turned to a well-know diet plan to once and for lose the excess weight. This diet plan is expensive and it's extreme, but people lose weight. I was willing to try it. However, my heart sank when I realized that the success of the plan lay in the cutting out of all sugar -- including bread and other carbs (ouch), but also fruit and many of the starchy veggies (double ouch).

Worst yet, I started the program in May....so I watched as other people devoured fresh strawberries and enjoyed strawberry shortcake. I tried not to salivate as friends and family enjoyed juicy ripe peaches, apricots and plums. I especially tried not to go crazy as giant roasted ears of corn slathered in garlic butter showed up in my dreams.

It was pure torture.And I did lose weight (and I did put most of it back on predictably), but I also decided that a life without fresh fruit is not once I want to experience again.

Yet, even as I decided that, the funny thing is that after I stopped with the diet plan, I found myself....not eating produce. I was sick to death of salads and the few "approved" veggies that I ate for months on end. However, even though I could now enjoy apples and citrus and other tasty and sustaining produce items (it was fall/winter)...I found that I was out of the habit. (Plus, bread was a new best friend.)

As you can imagine, there were other consequences of cutting produce out of my diet. My intestines were not fans of this new way of eating. How could I have come so far from the simple enjoyment the delights of a fresh, crisp apple?

I was remembering that yesterday as I sampled cherries, strawberries and some grapes from a grocery trip the day before. How could I ever have allowed my diet to lack such wonderful fruit?

And then I made a connection....

Earlier in the morning at church, the sermon was about the Holy Spirit and how we need this distinctly other self of God to constantly fill us with his presence.

The delectable and mouth-watering fruit of the Spirit flows from a constant stream of God's indwelling in us.Without it, that fruit that grows from this soul irrigation withers and shrivels up -- leaving our spirits shrunken and in desperate need from the Master Gardener.

When this happens, it's time for some serious measures. Pruning and fertilization consumes us....the cutting  back and yes, the trials of life that stimulates new growth and regeneration...new fruit! And yes, this is when we especially need that water to flow and Light of Truth shining on all of it.

What saddened me the most was the realization that sometimes in our lives, we can unintentionally (or intentionally) stop up the flow of that living water in our spirit. The very resource we need to feed our souls, re-seed the ground of our spirit, and bring health and wellness to our very being is right there in front of us.

Waiting. Available.

But we pass it by. Worse, we have no appetite or longing for it. We have become indifferent to it.

There is good news, however.

God's spirit is always there for a fresh renewing of that water. He is so faithful to help us remove the detritus and blockages that have stopped up that artisan well deep within us.

All we need to do is ask. All we need to do is open up our eyes and "taste and see that He is good."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms



Once again God has blown through our house and left an almost tangible sweet aroma of His presence.

It happens like it most often does -- the glorious embedded in the mundane.

It was just another night. The day was long and this mom of four was dragging -- despite the forty-five minute cat nap my husband had gifted to me while he made dinner. Sure...the morning spent at Bible Study was permeated with God's presence and a fresh revelation of His love for us. It was a bittersweet time of repenting for behavior and attitudes that are not Godly, but also experiencing the overwhelming and surpassing Love only a heavenly Father could lavish upon his humanity-scarred daughter.

But the aftermath was spent with quotidian activities: a grocery run, van refueling, playground escapade, bickering siblings and struggle during a pushed back home school session left me feeling like I lost the battle today.

And even though I am valiantly attempting not to give into to fear and worry over a daughter who has been bruised by bullying, I often find myself looking at her and wishing I could fix the ache in her heart.

We have been doing our best to get her on the road to healing -- including taking her to a counselor weekly to talk about the trauma; inviting family members to participate in rebuilding her crumpled self-esteem; praying, praying and more praying; writing out a scripture for her to think on (something that my own mother did for me in a time of crisis -- however, this time around it was not received with much enthusiasm unfortunately) and assuring her of our love and the value she has in our family and in God's eyes.

We're doing our best...

We're doing....

But, it's not enough.

Yes, we are seeing some progress -- little glimpses of the old more carefree child from a few years ago. There are hints that some of that hurt is being broken down.

Yet...I...worry.

And I've been thinking all day today of something a friend said around the table at this morning's Bible Study concerning a God-ordained incident that happened this past Mother's Day. Her husband was moved to bestow forgiveness upon a mother who most would agree would never hope to earn it. God showed up and brought reconciliation and a path towards restoration.

Only God.

But it was something she said after that...she said, "This entire situation has shown me how much God doesn't even need us to accomplish His plan."

I nodded knowingly with the other ladies at the table. I knew what she meant, but in my heart I was questioning. What? God doesn't need us to accomplish His plan? Well, I know he doesn't necessarily need me, but doesn't He want my participation? My help? Aren't I important in this equation of life? Doesn't he want me to be a part of my daughter's soul healing?

Me. Me. Me.

And so there I was not so long ago....mascara smudged eyes from my brief nap, hair all askew, doing the "mom thing" and making my beautiful babies cookies for National Chocolate Chip Day.

It was about as everyday and mundane as it could get.

But then God showed up.

I had noticed that my daughter had selected a Veggie Tales disc to watch before bed...and I vaguely registered that it was "A Snoodles Tale," one of my husband's favorites -- one that he loves to show his high school students every year about how "The Great Artist" made us just the way we are and how He delights in His creation.

But I didn't expect what came next.

As I blended flour into creamed sugar and butter, she bounded into the kitchen and promptly started scribbling something on paper. This is a fairly normal occurrence for her, since she loves to draw and write poetry.

However, this time was different. As she proudly bustled over to show me what she had penned, I saw that it wasn't a poem or drawing.

It was scripture.

And here is what she wrote down,

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
                                                          --Psalms 139:14"

And I got it...

God doesn't need me.

He can use a children's animated program to show my daughter how precious and dear she is to Him. How she is not an accident. How he created all the things she despises about herself to be just that way. He loves her -- just the way she is.

She got it.

And I know that I know that God's message is infinitely more powerful than anything her earthly mother could share with her. She was listening to the voice of her heavenly Father -- the one who breathed life into her little body and knit her together inside me.

I learned another BIG lesson on trust tonight. Although I thought I was trusting in God to provide healing for my precious baby girl, I assumed that He would use me to bring it about.

And I know that my sweet girl was probably able to hear and receive God's message tonight due to all the tears, prayers, and time sown into her heart over the last few weeks and months.

But when the moment of revelation came, it was all Him.

Just as it should be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Garments of Grace



I have been soaking in several similar-themed books and Bible studies of late. But the most predominate of the bunch is Ann Voskamp's, 1000 Gifts

I started reading this book right after Christmas, and I'm even a member of a book club where we meet and discuss the ways that this beautifully-expressed, lyrical book have impacted our hearts and changed our way of thinking.

If you have not yet read the book, you are missing out on a mind and spirit revolution. Voskamp encourages her readers to really make the attempt to "be grateful in every situation, but mostly in the everyday things that we so often run ramshod over in our attempts to get to the "good bits" of the day. No easy feat -- but it's one that brings joy into the journey of this life.

It's a revolution that is honing my thinking and reshaping how I view circumstances and events in my own quotidian life.

But beyond this central theme of gratitude, I have gleaned so much more from the book. As I have truly opened my heart and mind to receive from the words on the page and also God's nudges upon them, I have had some truly divinely-inspired moments.

One such moment happened last Monday as I read the final chapter of that night's meetings assigned reading. I so identify with Ann Voskamp's longing to be more...more present, more filled, more loving and lovely...just more. 

As she was relating about how she applied her new understanding of grace and gratitude to a tense situation involving her two sons, I started to feel that all-too-familiar feeling of defeat in my own method of parenting. I too want to be more....and maybe I actually want to be less. Less gruff, less likely to lose my temper, less busy and distracted, less....me.

As I marveled at her restraint and the way she handled the situation, I felt hopeless about my own condition. After all, I'm not a celebrated best-selling author. Sure...I home school my girls like Voskamp -- but not in the "classical method" she embraces. I'm not soft-spoken enough. Or patient enough. Or...enough.

You know how it goes.

But as I started to go down that path -- and by this time, I had finished my reading and had moved on to getting the kids ready to go out for some errands -- God literally stopped me in my tracks.

It happened as I was helping my three-year-old get dressed to leave. (I don't know about you, but clothing inside our house (or lack thereof) is not usually for public consumption. Add in a newly-potty trained little one and pants are usually MIA.)

As we got ready to go, Camden ran over with his jeans (previously discarded earlier in the day) and said, "Help me, Momma!" And, as I bent down to help Camden put them on, he did what all young children do -- he reached his little hands out and braced himself on my shoulders so he could step into them.

And right then...I got it.

I felt God whispering to me...."that's what I want to do for you, Heather."

And I cried.

You see...as a mom...I don't expect my toddler to be able to fully dress himself. We're working on it. But for now, I still pick out his clothing. I help him wriggle into it. He trusts me to dress him appropriately for what we are walking out into.

I felt like God was telling me that all my longings to be "better," to be "different, to be "more," and my frustrations of not knowing how to make it happen were not something I needed to struggle with any longer. 

All he wanted was for me to ask Him for help, come to Him, brace my hands on His shoulders and step into those "garments of grace."

Can you feel the blissful freedom in that?

We no longer have to strive to find or put together the "perfect outfit" that matches our soul and picks up the flecks of gold in our spirit. We don't even have to struggle with how to put it on and make it fit.

God wants to help clothe us with His righteousness.

I got it....

All that sorrow and pressure I had felt over so desperately "wanting to be better" but not having the faintest idea how to do it just melted away as a wave of His grace flooded my heart.

And while I know that someday my spirit and character will be mature enough to put those garments of grace on for myself, I am rejoicing in the fact that until that day comes, I have a Father that delights in showing me how.




Sunday, March 18, 2012

Unshelving Hope



Over the past week or so, I have been watching the Kony 2012 Saga unfold.

At the onset of everything, when the Invisible Children organization posted up the Kony 2012 video on YouTube, I was intrigued.

I heard the filmmakers talk about the atrocities in Central Africa and how it came to be that they would choose to make such a brilliant piece of propaganda -- a last ditch hope to do bring about change and hope and something that all their previous work was not able to accomplish.

I caught their vision of making Kony a household name to be reviled -- and hopefully that awareness that would bring about the change they so desperately wanted for the people of those afflicted African countries.

The radical idea "that where you live shouldn't determine whether you live."

I raised my fist in solidarity. After all, I too have been affected by the stories of loved ones (namely my father) who have traveled to that part of the world and have witnessed the devastation first-hand. Those stories of peoples lives torn utterly apart -- women and children raped, fathers and brothers maimed and macheted, children stolen from their parents, it was all too much.

I was so haunted by the stories, that a friend and I created a website where we could share what was happening over there and provide a way to help ease their burden.

We were compelled to action.

And that's what happens when you feel something so deeply -- down to the very core of your being.

You have to act.

You cannot help but to move, try, hope, pray, cry...

You are never the same again.

I felt like I got it...what Invisible Children was attempting to do...and I cheered them on.

Then came all the rest....a nightmare of epic proportions.

I'm still in disbelief at how quickly it turned ugly. What began as a groundswell of support and solidarity against evil rapidly spiraled down into a vicious and relentless attack against Invisible Children and those in leadership.

I couldn't believe my eyes at some of the things I was reading....people wishing evil upon those who had worked so hard for a people that were not even "their people." Crazy allegations of cruel intentions and cries of, "who cares....it's not in America anyway."

It made me so ashamed to live in this country of plenty...to hear that last argument as a defense as to why we shouldn't get involved or worse...care.

Have we really become so cynical and hardened that instead of putting our collective support to make a difference in a world crying out in pain, we immediately start digging for "dirt" and things to smear and invalidate organizations whose sole mission is to bring relief?

The problem with digging for dirt is that in this day and age...you will always find some. Whether it's true or not is another story. I'm pretty sure that somewhere out there on the Net there is some form of criticism or hate for some of history's greatest humanitarians....Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Bill Gates....and more.

Why is it so much easier for us to spend our time and energy to discredit someone rather than feel the ache and pain of the knowledge that somewhere in Central Africa right now, a young girl is being gang-raped by soldiers because they are convinced that her virginity will cure their AIDS infection? Their imprint on that young girl will be so severe that she will need an operation to surgically repair her genitals so that she can urinate, menstruate...and maybe, just maybe, carry a child someday. However, the odds that she (and her baby) will have AIDS is highly probable.

Did you know that today, there are hospitals filled with women who are waiting to have or have had this fistula repair surgery?

How can a feeling, compassionate person not burn with the sorrow and injustice of  what I just shared with you. I'll tell you how...all you have to do is dig through my life and find something that's ugly and smear it around -- true or not. Then when you believe that I'm awful and sinful and unkind, then you can disbelieve anything that comes out of my mouth. Why? Because I'm not "credible"

I sincerely believe that this is what happened to Jason Russell of Invisible Children. We'll never know the internal conflict going on in his heart and soul (and it's none of our business). But when I first heard of his "breakdown," I felt like I immediately got it.

This scripture verse found in Proverbs 13:12 came to my mind,

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."

Defer - to put off until a later time; adjourn, delay, hold off, hold up, postpone, remit, shelve, stay, suspend, table, waive.

I can easily see how Mr. Russell could end up dazed and confused wandering around the streets in disbelief at how quickly his life's mission seems to have gone up in flames.

When you've seen and heard things about the troubles and atrocities of others that are so horrendous it scars you and motivates you to change and do something to help;

when you've invested your life, heart, money and being into it,

when you've spent countless hours away from home and loved ones all for the sake of changing the circumstances and lives of a group of people tattooed on your very soul;

when you can't imagine not seeing things change in your lifetime and are convinced that if only everyone could know and understand the problem and join you in creating a solution, things could change;

when you see your video blow up the internet and bring awareness in numbers you never dreamed possible;

when you see the media monster grow bigger and bigger and then turn on you and yours with a vengeance scrabbling and scavenging for every crumb of wrong-doing;

when everything you've worked so hard for starts to seemingly crumble and when you see that spotlight of the world's attention that you've worked so hard to train upon the suffering whip around and instead, shine it's harsh and accusing glare on you;

when you see the change you so desperately seek so close but then ripped from your hands and labeled "a scam..."

when you see all of that and more, you lose what's essential to being human.

Jason Russell is not crazy. He's not deranged or certifiable. He's temporarily lost Hope.

He is simply....heart sick.

It's way too easy for those of us born and bred in America and the Western world to put on our spectacles of cynicism, crank up (or down) the thermostat in our centrally heated and air-conditioned houses, pat our perfectly groomed and overfed children on their little heads as they get lost in a sea of electronic devices serving as nannies, prop up our feet and lay back in our La-Z-Boys with a cold drink and snack food, and scoff and sneer at the humanitarian work of others.

Most of us do not live in a world where neighbors butcher neighbors because they have the "wrong religion." We will probably not see little Johnny down the street with a machine gun draped across his tiny chest covered in the blood of his own parents and family members that he just was forced to murder.

It's inconceivable.

It's inconceivable to us in our contained little world.

But it's real. And it's happening right now.

So will we choose to be cynical, to rejoice when those who have dedicated their lives for the sake of others fall? Will we beat our chest and toss our hair and say, "I told you so!"

Or will we choose to Hope.

To Believe.

To allow ourselves to feel the pain of others and then act upon it -- no matter what the personal or financial cost.

Will we make those Invisible Children seen or will we allow "scandal" to let them fade back into the shadows?

Will we pour ourselves out for others -- yes, those whom we have never met and will never meet this side of Heaven -- whether they live in Uganda, D.R. Congo, Rwanda, Iraq, Japan or New Orleans?

My soul begs for the answer to be an unwavering, YES!

I cannot get the haunting refrain of a popular John Mayer song out of my head,

"Waiting....waiting on the world to change."

I never really liked that song. Sure it's catchy and a call to social action...or is it? Why do we have to wait for the world to change? Are we waiting until we have "our chance" to be the generation in political and financial power?

The last I checked, it's the 20 and 30 somethings that rule social networking. We have the power to stop the knee-jerk reaction of immediately setting out to disbelieve and disprove everything that makes us feel a shred of compassion or kindness.

I truly believe what Jason Russell said so persuasively in the Kony 2012 video,

"We have reached a crucial time in history where what we do or don't do right now will affect every generation to come."

The world will not be changed by legislation or political campaigns.

Instead it will be changed by every day coddled, pampered people who are willing to tear the filter off of their hearts and truly feel something for someone else...and then act upon it.

I'm sick and tired of waiting for the world to change....because history proves that it won't do it unless enough people rise up and not only demand that change, they march, they sign petitions, they give money and most importantly, they GO and do something about it!

So I'm doing the only thing that I can do -- the only thing I can control.

I'm changing...me.

So, my fervent prayer is that Jason Russell has Hope restored by the only One who can do it. As Invisible Children's date of April 20th to blanket the world with Kony's face and crimes gets closer and closer, I pray that Jason Russell would be healed, blessed and be ready once again to pick up his sword for battle.

Yes, it's true. The cost of caring about and allowing sorrow for others to penetrate our heart can seem high; however, in the end, sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing will cost us our very humanity.

May we throw off our heartsickness and be the tree of life that so many desperately need.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Using My Bucket



My heart was ripped out, crushed, and cut by a thousand blades on Thursday night.

What started out as a little screen time after putting the kids to bed became a cry fest of epic proportions -- leaving me hollowed out and stuffed up in my sinuses from all the tears and emotions.

I watched the program, "20/20".

I have our DVR set to record this weekly show, and I had watched about 1/3 of the program a few days earlier -- which was entitled, My Extreme Affliction, focusing on physical issues that have extreme consequences who have them.

However, it was the remaining 1/3 of the program that I sat down and watched on Thursday night that gripped my heart so tightly. The episode travels to Tanzania, Africa (a country near and dear to my heart) to one of the largest populations of Albinos in the entire world. Not only do these people have to deal with the very real issues of their genetics, but they are literally in danger of their very life and limbs.

You can watch the episode here. (Click on the 8th bar to watch the content to which I'm referring.)

For some reason, in this country, witch doctors decided that the body parts of people who have Albinism is necessary for certain potions. These body parts have since become extremely valuable and sought after. At first, people did some grave robbing to get what they wanted. But once they ran out of bodies to plunder, they started going after the living.

I heard about this first-hand when my family traveled to Tanzania in 2008 for a family reunion of sorts. My grandparents pioneered a church and Bible School in Arusha in the 1950's, and as both of them celebrated their 50th anniversary, our extended family was invited to participate in the celebration.

My sister and I (in the purple) at the church in TZ.

It was my first visit to this continent and to the country of Tanzania. However, it felt a little bit like home because I've grown up on stories, photos and videos of my grandparents and my father's life in this country. I felt an instant connection and kinship with the people of Tanzania -- a love that has grown since that visit.

During our trip, we were blessed to be able to go on safari for a few days during the trip and as we drove out of Arusha to the Ngorongoro Crater area, our driver told us about what was going on with the Albino population. My sister and I were flabbergasted and horrified.

It bothered me, but then there was a lot to be bothered about on our visit as we witnessed some of the poverty and lack that people deal with in that country.

To be honest, I'm sorry to say that ....I forgot. (And I've cried some bitter tears of sadness over that too.)

But I have been reminded once again.

I cannot tell you of the heart-break and heart-wrenching feeling I have in my soul over the atrocities committed against humanity by their own neighbors under the spell of witch-craft. The stories told of women maimed in front of their children who have borne it because they have been threatened with the killing of those children if they resist is simply mind-blowing.

I dare anyone to watch the segment of the Tanzanian reporter who first brought this plight to the attention of the world media as she describes an incident that happened with a baby with Albinism being taken from their mother without having a complete emotional breakdown. As a mother, my heart literally shattered to think about what that would feel like -- to be so helpless as your child is destroyed for the sake of demonic influence.

The sad and inspiring story of another victim, Mariamu, was bittersweet for me as I watched her personal tragedy turn into redeemed joy. The last shot of her hugging her young son completely undid me, and I had to leave the room to sob in my bathroom as I cried out to God about why there is so much evil and suffering and to help the beautiful country of Tanzania and to help me do something to make some sort of a difference.

Beautiful Tanzania

At that moment, I wanted to sell everything we have and move our family over to Tanzania and love on those children with Albinism. I know that's not practical right now, but I do know there is something I can do about this situation.

First of all, I have family who is actively working in Tanzania with a non-profit they created, and I know that I can get funds to where they can be most useful. I'm working on that.

Also, through other friends, I have found a missionary couple that is actively working in a school for children with Albinism to provide much needed supplies and continued protection.

I may not be able to do something personally about the ocean of suffering and sorrow out there in the world, but I was reminded this last Sunday, that I have been given a bucket.  My bucket may not be able to empty out that ocean, but I can be diligent and purposeful to use it to alleviate some of it.

May I never allow the crusty callous of indifference to grow upon my heart. May I always rise up and take that bucket in hand and head back to that shore line.

May God cover those who have suffered by the hands of those who have evil in their heart find peace, safety and healing.

May God bless Tanzania and her people.




Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reclaiming My Life

Photo credit: pwelch84

I have felt the pull of my blog calling to me over the last couple of weeks, but I have clapped busy hands over my ears as I have attempted to tread enough water to stay afloat in the sea of homeschooling -- a body of water that I recently dove into.

Being a bit of a perfectionist, I had hoped for a perfectly-timed and executed and swan dive, but instead I sorta cannon-balled my way into these waters.

People have been asking me how "the home school thing" is going. Honestly, I am still trying to figure that out.

It both amazes and bewilders me that we have been at "this thing" for almost 4 weeks now. I'm honestly not sure where the time has gone.

As you may have read in earlier posts on the topic, our home schooling decision was expedited by several months leaving me without the "prep time" that I had carefully planned where I would read all the appropriate books and carefully plan out my children's educational journey -- all to be undertaken in the fall.

However, I am a fan of the "man plans, God laughs" theology and I have been amazed once again at how wise He is and how faithful He is to catch us when we take the leap into the unknown.

While it hasn't been easy, it's been easier in many ways that I would have never guessed.

Not being a morning person, I have reveled in the "no alarm necessary" life of the home schooling family. While we still have a few places to be in the morning, the digital blat of the alarm clock in my room no longer rules the roost.

But beyond that, we're having a great time.

Following some advice from several home schooling mom and our educational coordinator at the charter school, I resisted the urge to throw down a bunch of worksheets and do "school at home." Rather we took some time to figure things out, to spend the day exploring and not "schooling." Some people call this "detoxing" -- not because school is evil and you have to get it "out of your system," but rather because home schooling can be so drastically different, that it's good to offer a period of transition to your children.

So, we played games -- the game of Life, educational games, go-to-the-grocery-store-and-go-shopping-game -- we watched some documentaries on sea turtles, squids and other sea creatures. We painted a section of our shed with chalkboard paint and had the kids to math outside.



I tried to think a bit out of the box and had the first-grader spell her way to eating her snack with some "Scrabble" Cheez-its.



After awhile, I found the courage to dig into that big tub o' curriculum and figure out where the girls needed to start -- and then we just...started!

It wasn't perfect. But it was progress. (I totally just stole that tag line from a friend's new blog.) But I think he's right. So often we want to wait until everything is just so before we embark on a new venture -- only to miss the joy of seeing God provide for our needs exactly when we need it. To wait for perfection is to miss the miracle.

So the things that have been easier...so much more easier than I would have ever dreamed are legion...and here are some of them:

  • We have more time

I know that sounds crazy, but with all the hustling and bustling from here to school and school to home and home to church and church to home and home to school and school to the doctor's and....you get the picture. With all that running, we missed a lot of time that can be spent doing other things. And, more importantly, I have less need to be "Crazy General Mom" in the morning -- screeching out directives to get dressed, get teeth brushed, get breakfast eaten, get bottoms into the van, etc. We no longer need to leave places at 7 p.m. at night to get everyone home and into bed for school the next day. And that's kinda nice.

I am much more calm. And so, they are much more calm. This is carrying over in other areas as well.

  • We are keeping the house cleaner and are getting more organized.

Another benefit of that "found time" is that the house is actually staying neater and cleaner. Yes, we still have a bit of a clutter problem and it seems like little toys are forever littering the hallways. But now we have time to incorporate a "clean up" time into our day before school (which just seems natural). As a result, the kids seem more responsible, they are getting allowance (or "commissions" as Dave Ramsey calls them) regularly, which motivates them to continue doing their part, etc. Another bonus for me, is that I have less of the cleaning burden on me. Now that they are getting older and are not gone for most of the day, I feel like they can help out.

And it's so nice to have to use our weekends to clean up from the crazy of our week. I know my husband appreciates that maybe the most.

  • We're nicer to each other.

I thought it would be the opposite -- the whole "familiarity breeds contempt" line of thinking. But I think that the "we're all in this together" mind-set has brought our family closer. (This really has been a lifestyle change for us in so many ways.) The girls help each other more without as much complaining. I'm not saying we have transformed into the Waltons, but I have seen a marked improvement.

Again...for me...not having as much running around to do, and not having as much cleaning and tidying to do has made me...nicer. It's just the truth. And when I'm nicer to my children, they are nicer to each other and then nicer to their parents and then we're nicer to them....and the circle keeps going.

  • We have made our home a refuge.

I also think having a "safe place to be" (literally to just be...not perform) has greatly helped, and especially the fourth-grader, who was dealing with being bullied at school. When you know that you can be exactly who you are without anticipating fall-out, it changes your demeanor. It's nice to see her embracing who she is without trying to apologize for it is...or worse, hide it away.

  • We have seen God's provision.

Throughout this process, we have talked to the kids (mostly the girls) about how this is a leap of faith for our family and how we are relying on God to lead us where we need to go and provide the things we need. We had a living illustration of this just recently.

As I frequently do, I entered a giveaway on a deal blog that I follow. The particular giveaway was for a Kindle Fire. When I looked at what it was and all that it could do, I asked God to allow me to win so that I could use it in our new home school endeavor. I entered the contest and didn't think about it again....until...I opened my email one morning to read a message from the blog owner telling me that I had won one of the two Kindle Fires (a $199 value!)!!!!

As you can imagine, I was in complete shock! When I verified that it was real and not some hoax or wishful thinking, I immediately called my husband and then told the girls. I shared with them about how I prayed and asked God if we could win so that I could use it for home schooling. They were astounded and watched the mail for days until it came. I'm happy to report we are putting it to good use.

The 1st grader doing math on a Math Bingo app on the Kindle Fire

(I even "happened" to find a case that fit it on clearance for a mere $7....they usually run about $35!!)

I also got on sort of a winning streak. The day I got the Kindle, I entered a contest for a high-end sports bra by submitting a jingle/tag line for their newest one, and I won one of those too! A $65 value and something that I really needed! And then last week, I won a giveaway for some handmade eco-friendly laundry soap (something I really wanted to try -- and maybe make).

I'm not one to win things usually. But, seeing all these "coincidences" over the last few weeks, I do really feel like God is lavishing love upon me and our family. And beyond that, I feel like He has been saying, "See! Trust me! I've got you. You're safe."

He doesn't need to do that. The God of the Universe doesn't need to stop and reassure me of his plans for good for us, but He did and He does...and I'm so very grateful for it.

Do things get crazy loud from time to time? Do the girls still fight like cats and dogs over seemingly petty stuff? Does the house look like a laundry time bomb went off?

The answer is yes. Home schooling has not solve all of our issues and conflicts. We are still human beings...flawed...but on the path to a different way of doing things. I would never want to give the illusion that home schooling has waved a magic wand over our family.

But it's changed quite a bit.

Most notably...it's changed me.

And while I may have thought beforehand that it would have changed me by sucking up a lot of my free time (which it has), replacing reading for pleasure with home school theory books (which it has), and making me anxious and stressed out (it's been known to happen here and there), it hasn't been just that.

It's been more...so much more.

I feel like I'm settling...well, into me. Through God's help and gentle and patient guidance, I'm reclaiming my life -- the life that I signed up for when I got married, had children and determined to raise them the best that I could.

Instead of hiding in fear from all the things I felt that I should be and wasn't...that which I feared that I could never be no matter how hard I tried...I've stepped out and stepped forward into the great unknown of Possibility.

And the irony is that my hiding away never actually hid me from anything...instead it kept me from new experiences and challenges and finding that I can't is easily changed into, I could.

It's amazing that as I'm looking back on the last few weeks and thinking about all the ways home schooling has changed our kids and our family, the more I am seeing how much it has and is changing me.

Ahh...God has a great sense of humor, doesn't he?

Friday, January 27, 2012

What in the...




You know you've said it.  One day, you're moving through life as your normally do, when all of a sudden something come flying out of nowhere  -- could be an unforeseen occurrence, unexpected idea, or an actual object -- and your immediate reaction is,

"What in the world???"

This frequently happens to me. And I know that I have been known to cause others to exclaim this question...and recently.

Our seemingly "out of the blue" transition to home school has left many of our family and friends scratching their heads and saying, "what just happened?"

We've maybe not done the best job of laying the groundwork to guide everyone through our thought process over the last few months (and some of you are maybe raising an eyebrow and saying, "months?? How come we haven't heard a thing about this then if it's been months??") and making the journey of how we got here more public or understood.

The answer is, that it happened a lot quicker than we anticipated (I'm still a little stunned muttering, "what in the world?" under my breath!). And for those of you who are interested, here is the how and why...

We ended the summer on a high note and for the first time...in maybe forever...I didn't exhale a sigh of relief as the first day of school arrived. Truthfully, I was a bit nervous for our 1st grader. She didn't do so well last year in kindergarten. Many days she was "on red" for behavioral issues or not finishing her seat work. I cringed at the thought of going through that again.

But, she happily went to her new class, the 4th grader went to hers and I took the 4-year-old to year two of preschool enrichment on Tuesdays/Thursday.

By November, everything had changed. We withdrew our son from preschool for financial reasons -- which broke my heart (I cried). But that wasn't that toughest issue at that time for us.

Both of our girls were struggling. The first-grader did well initially. Her teacher is a gem and a veteran teacher. But by October, in our parent-teacher conference, she shared that although Hadley was squirmy and didn't want to do the seat work, she was able to give her some extra attention/incentive to get things done. However, she did broach the topic of having her tested for possible ADHD or the like because of "inability to focus."

My heart sank at that news. It didn't help that we were continuing to experience "Homework Hell" with the fourth-grader. Frequently, we she brought home 1-2 hours worth of homework -- mostly the latter. It drove us both crazy...poor Hayden having to sit and do seat work for so long after such a long school day already...and me -- trying to help her and make dinner, take care of the youngers, pick up the house, etc.

It was miserable all around.

About this time, the kids and I went down and visited a good friend of mine named Sarah, who lives in another city about 45 minutes south of us. A home school mom of 5 years+, Sarah is a wonderful person, artist, mom, wife, musician...I love her to pieces. I've watched her home school her boys and seen them grow up to be amazingly intelligent, gifted and out-of-the-box young men (aged 7 & 10). Because she home schools, I guess I have felt bold enough to ask if they would mind having us for company on the odd school holiday -- with the assumption that they might be having a holiday as well -- or could maybe move things around to accommodate our visit (not sure if that last part was overly-assumptive on my part....sorry, Sarah!).

Over the years, Sarah has shared some about home schooling, but she's never been zealous about it where she's tried to "convert me."  She's been kind to share what she's doing with complete respect and acceptance for what other moms choose to do. I love that about her.

However, that day was different for me. Instead of politely inquiring about how the "home schooling thing" was going (because really...I do care because she's a dear friend), I actually asked more probing, deeper, far-reaching questions about how it worked, what their day looked like, how closely the boys were on track to their public school peers.

What about homework?
No homework.

How long is a home school day on average?
2-3 hours.

I was interested.

I think I shocked us both. But, maybe down deep I knew that we were reaching a boiling point in our current situation and I was looking for a way to escape the madness.

Sarah answered all my questions and even showed me some of their curriculum and set up. She explained to me how the boys were actually enrolled in a public charter school set up for home school families. Tax money is paid out "per child" at the school to hire "educational coordinators" that oversee the children enrolled and help the parents pick curriculum (given/checked out for free), provide services for special needs/issue, and offer extra-curricular classes during the week like art, music, science, P.E. and more.

All things that have either left public schools here in California, or have been pared down to a ridiculous minimum.

I left that meeting feeling like maybe home schooling could be an option. I had never, ever considered it before -- truthfully. And actually, I had strong feelings against it. I came home and talked to my husband and I think we were both surprised to realize we both didn't hate the idea.

As I processed through and chatted with some of my friends, I was surprised to hear that a few of them were also considering home school. So, within a few weeks, Sarah graciously drove up with a box of info and curriculum and joined another home schooling mom and four of us "interested parties" to have an informational meeting/Q&A.

As both Sarah and the other mom, Teresa, shared about home schooling and their experience with it, as well as resources, and helpful info, I became more and more intrigued. All of a sudden sitting there with my 3 friends (all of whom had their teaching credentials, but were severely disenchanted with the school system as it is and worried for the welfare of their children both educationally and emotionally), it seemed possible.

A few weeks later, we attended a info meeting for that public charter school that Sarah's boys attend (oh, and that she is also the art teacher at). They are working on securing a site to start a satellite campus up in my area. It seemed even more feasible -- inevitable almost.

However, I was fearful. I had (and have) some confidence issues in my abilities to be the sole teacher for my children. Being a product of public schools and then having children for multiple years in public school, it felt like I was suddenly trying to turn and swim upstream...or maybe out of the stream altogether.

By then, it was Christmas break, and I was gripped by indecision. We had pretty much decided to pursue enrolling both girls in the Fall at the new satellite campus (and by then, our eldest son, Declan, would be in kindergarten too), but I was nervous about how to prepare and get there in the months ahead.

But slowly, as the girls went back to school in January, that decision became more immediate.

We started getting more and  more communication from the first-grader's teacher about her inability to sit still and do her seat work and the teacher's concern that she wouldn't be ready for the STAR test and the rigors of 2nd grade.

It felt terrible to continually chastise her to "pay attention" and "focus" when at this point, I had became completely disenchanted with the entire school system and their driving force to cram the answers to the STAR test in the children's head so that they pass it and well so that the school district's will continue to be funded and not get on "watch lists."

We felt like that was a game we didn't want to play.

Plus, although I believe in teaching my children to respect authority and submit to requests to sit down and focus and be still (all important), I wasn't so sure that requiring children to do that while learning for great expanses of time was in Hadley's best interest.

We also discovered about this time that although Hadley loathes math worksheets, we could goad her into doing them easier and quicker if we played music for her. I knew that a teacher of 24 could not be expected to bump the song, "Pumped Up Kicks" every time my child had to do a worksheet.

Something had to change.

Meanwhile, the 4th grader was starting to share about some emotional bullying that she was experiencing at school by classmates and feelings of isolation and being "hated." The homework issue had gone a little bit better, but I wondered if perhaps her teacher had backed off on giving so much work after numerous parental complaints of excessive work (not just us).

Plus, I started to hear about all the subjects and units of study that had been and were going to be dropped out of the curriculum "because it wasn't on the STAR test."

I really started to dislike that test and the power it has over our schools, teachers and administrators. It's not their fault that things are set up this way. It's a broken system when funding relies on test scores. Everyone loses. But, the biggest losers are the students.

It's terrible when a veteran teacher who has taught for 25+ years tells you that they have to sneak their class out to their garden to do some weeding and gardening because they will get busted by the principal for doing things that are not about the STAR test. (I'm using "they" to protect the innocent) Also, that they are getting flack for trying to fit in extra science units and more P.E. because those two things are rapidly going bye-bye and they can't bear to see it happen. And yes, that teacher got flack for doing that too.

Every morning when the alarm went off before 7 a.m. and I struggled through the difficult routine of motivating both girls to get dressed, brush their teeth, eat breakfast and get out the door by 7:35 to get the first bell at 7:40 a.m. (yes, you read that right....add that in as another reason that school can be ridiculous. I can't even think straight at 7:45...so how can a child be expected to think when she still has sleep crusties in her eyes?).

It all seemed to be so futile. So, I contacted the charter school. They told me that if I wanted to enroll in the Fall, I needed to get my application in to reserve my spot. They told me that they currently had space for the girls for the Spring semester as well, if I were interested in that.

So, I sent in an application. They accepted it. They had room for both girls.

It was time to make a decision.

For the 4th-grader, it was easy. She had been bugging me to home school her since early December when we started talking about it. She was tired of feeling picked on and harrased. She ended up in the nurse's office enough time post-Christmas break with headaches and stomach aches to warrant a referral home from the nurse requesting us to have her taken in to see her doctor to see if something was wrong with her.

I knew what was wrong with her.

Her spirit was crushed. The stress of school was making her sick.

I hated to see it.

The last straw was her coming home and telling me about another classmate (a "frenemy" of sorts) had pulled down her shirt in line for lunch to see if Hayden was wearing a training bra (as she suspected) -- leaving Hayden mortified as she announced to the class and everyone else that yes she was. My poor daughter cried so hard that her teacher sent her and the other girl to the principal's office where they both wrote out "incident reports" and supposedly made up.

Hayden was devastated. And, I never heard one word about it from either her teacher or the school. No one called to tell me about it. My poor girl was harassed and I never knew or could do anything to protect her.

We were done.

The first-grader was a tougher choice. We had decided to leave her in school through the Spring and then pull her in the Fall. But, things continued to deteriorate. She didn't do her seat work. She didn't want to do her worksheets at home. Being a strong-willed, "precocious child," it felt like she was always "getting it" for either not doing well at school or not doing well at home.

And by then, she had caught on and was asking to be home schooled. When we went to see the campus on Monday, she insisted she get to go there too.

So we withdrew both of the girls. Hayden's last day was a week ago Friday, and Hadley's was Tuesday -- the day after we visited the charter school and enrolled them both.

Tuesday was rough. I truly love her teacher and absolutely believe she did her best by Hadley and did so much to help her improve, focus and achieve. However, I couldn't get beyond the impetus and push to get the students ready for that darn, STAR test.

In the end, that's not what I value when it comes to my children's education. I want them to be creative, critical-thinkers who are curious enough to seek out the answers why, who read for pleasure and knowledge -- not just because it's required.

So, we were all greatly anticipating Thursday -- our first day of "classes" at the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center.


They have them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, it's an hour drive one-way, so my friend, Ninon, who is also on this journey with 3 of her 4 kids, and I decided to carpool and split gas money to make the trip down once a week to give our kids some value-added classes and a chance to hang out with other kids.

It was a pretty amazing day.

The back side of the school (the old school house is in the middle).

We arrived at 9 a.m. and the kids split up into different classes. Art for two, science for another two and then P.E/Gardening for another. Then at 10 a.m., they went to a different class. Then lunch and then two more sets of classes. The kids ran, played, ate, worked with their brains and their hands, met a variety of children from a variety of different family backgrounds.

One of the kids was even asked by a fellow home schooler (after she looked him up and down), "you were public schooled before, right?" When he said he had been, she pronounced, "yeah...I could tell."

Ninon and I had a good laugh over that one and joked that reverse discrimination exists in the homeschooling community too.

Younger siblings are encouraged to participate and play. 

Declan loooves playing on the playground and with his friend, Jack!

The pack o' kids (6 in all) were filthy, a little loamy, amped up and ravenous when we headed home at 2 p.m. -- toting all of the snacks and the kids' handicraft and art projects (Hadley made origami!). All of them were excited to return the following Thursday (and were sad we couldn't come back on Tuesdays!)

To be honest, it hasn't all been as effortless as it was on Thursday. We're still figuring this all out. There is a box of curriculum that I am going through to figure out what I'm going to do and when and how. It's a bit overwhelming.

But I have a lot of support from the girls' Educational Coordinator, Jeri, and a varied group of home schooling friends. They are have encouraged me to take it slow and take it easy. That the girls won't "lose information" if I don't have it all together in my first week -- that studies actually show that a period of "transition" from public school to home schooling is healthy for both parent and child. -- that they will continue to learn and absorb, but intuitively.

I was fascinated to read in one of the Home schooling "How to" books that some studies show that "chronic exposure to stress inhibits full brain development. This can result in learning problems, such as ADD, ADHD or behavioral problems."

While I am not attributing all behavioral issues to stress, I can see the link. I know that I have seen the beginning of change in both of my girls now that the "pressure" is off. They are more serene, content. They are still full of activity, but it's just...different.

So, now we are on this journey.

Ultimately, we've walked into this home schooling thing more as a "lifestyle choice," rather than a mere educational choice. The hope is that we would be able to make every day life things "teachable moments," and experience these moments together as a family.

I am humbled to see this happening already -- the children are currently WILLINGLY watching a documentary on the Loggerhead sea turtle for the second time today with their dad. The first we did as a lesson combining science, nature and geography (we even got some math and English in). They loved it so much that after they talked their father's ear off about it and showed him their reports and maps, they put it again and begged him to watch it with them.

Wow!

Before, we would have been "too wiped out" from the day (both the kids from being at school all day and me, from my stuff) to want to "learn" something together. But the truth is, they don't even see it as learning. And that's amazing to me!

I have no idea how this is going to work, or where we're going to end up, but right now, I guess I don't need to know that. We're on the path that makes the most sense for our family and for our children.  As a parent, my children's emotional well-being and education is my responsibility. I need to do whatever it takes to protect that...to provide it in the best way I can.

So that's where we are. In a vastly different place than we were one week ago. So much has changed. But so much has not.

This is our family's journey. I would never assume that our choice to home school (wow...it's still so surreal to even say that) would be for everyone. I know that every child is different -- learns differently. Every family is different, does things differently.

I would never want anyone to feel "less than," or feel that I've implied that only parents who "truly love their children home school" them. That is the last thing I'd ever want to convey. Every family makes a decision on what works best for their child/ren. Period.

But this is our story...our path...at least for the foreseeable future. We'll keep you posted on how it unfolds.



Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The More Things Change...

The view from the school's playground...gorgeous rolling hill, cloud-puffed sky..


"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

This phrase has been running through and jumping over hurdles in my brain the last few weeks (and maybe months) as I've perceived a shift in our culture -- and particularly my own life and choices -- to re-learn and resurrect so many of the "old ways and traditions" of doing things...from cooking, "home-making," crafting, minding our finances, etc. (I blogged about this topic too -- if you are interested.)

I honestly do think that much of it can be attributed to the economic downturn and people needing to make some serious lifestyle changes. However, I really do think that there is a hunger for our history and collective past -- a nostalgia of sorts for another time where people were content with less and seemed to live fuller.

Sidenote: In case you've ever wondered, that quote is attributed to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a french writer of note.

Anyhow, back to my thought process of late...

On Monday, as my friend, Ninon, and I pulled up to the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center to enroll our children and start this crazy, "never say never" home school journey, I couldn't help but think of that phrase as we looked at the most prominent structures on the charter school's campus.



It's a beautiful building that used to be a one-room school house back in the day. Now serving as the school library, it has a solid, historic feel to it. Like it's seen some things in it's day and it's not sure we're up to the challenge. I like it.

After filling out paperwork to enroll the five children (two of mine, three of hers), we met with our Educational Coordinator to get some general information on the both the school and how their school/program works. It was a challenge to get all the pertinent information with my four children playing in the room; however, I was so very grateful that our coordinator, Jeri, was understanding and even encouraging in the children's play and interruptions.

After that, we walked over to that majestic library and started to pick out curriculum...lots and lots of curriculum, stacks and stacks of curriculum. And that was just for my two children.


Between the two families, we loaded up the cargo area of my van with piles and piles of books and resources.

Did I mention that we didn't have to pay a dime? Because it's a public charter, tax money is paid out to the school on a per child basis -- just like regular school.

By this time, our kids were a wreck. They had been fairly patient for the two hours that it took for all of this to be accomplished, so as promised, we headed out to the playground area to have lunch and let the children finally run and jump and go crazy.

And they did...they swung, they slid down slides, they ran, they did it all...and eventually we ended up here...a curious fun-looking playhouse.


As we walked up to it, I recognized the handiwork of this sign...


...a Sarah Geesey work of art, a dear friend, who has beautifully modeled homeschool for years and the one who first filled me in about Eleanor Roosevelt. She definitely has a style all her own that I think I would identify most anywhere (however, since she's the art teacher at the school, it makes perfect sense that her work would be represented out here).

One of the coordinators saw us looking and came over with a bucket of chalk. The kids shrieked with delight when they realized that the inside of the house was all chalkboard! They quickly went to work!

Ethan (Ninon's son) is a sweet little ham. My two girls are in the background.


My daughter Hayden thought this was the "best day ever."


The kids (minus McKenna): Ethan, Hayden, Camden, Ryan, Declan & Hadley

They played long and hard in this house and when they tired of it, it was time to go.


So, we loaded them up in van once again and headed to friend, Sarah's house, to get some more "insider information" from a home school mom that we both admire.

When we arrived at her lovely, homey, home that exudes charm, warmth and acceptance, Ryan and Ethan jumped out of the van, high-fived and cheered with glee, "we're home schoolers!"

After a lovely visit filled with affirmation, information given and questions answered, we piled back into the van to head north.

As we drove home from Sarah's back up to Fresno and our homes, we saw the most gorgeous double rainbow. I have never seen colors so vivid painted against a bruised-purple sky from the impending rain storm headed our way.

It was like a love note from God to cap off an exhausting, overwhelming and exciting day and the signal of a new fresh beginning.

I definitely don't have it all figured out yet -- not even close.  I've only read one "how to" home school book and I haven't even been able to attack that plastic bin full of curriculum.

But I'm hopeful.

My children are happy...relived. Confident. Content.

All things I wish for them in a "modern age," but so very grateful to be able to provide via a "days gone by" method of instruction.

We'll be back on Thursday for our first of many weekly trips down to take advantage of art, music, language and other hands-on, value-added classes. The kids can't wait!

And, so, the adventure begins...